Doris Marten

Concept Painting: Colors Research

Works Bio
doris marten concept painting researching colors busche-kunst

Doris Marten has designed her brilliant concept painting like a major colors research project. Her question is how colors work and how we perceive them. Like every good research project, this one is conceived in series. For each of her series, Marten defines the constants and observes how the result changes with the change of the variables. The number of both constants and variables is always very small, but the result, the effect is almost limitless: The artist pours out a cornucopia of possibilities.

Simple structures

For this presentation, we have selected a few line and stripe paintings from the artist’s multifaceted oeuvre, namely from the series “Pink Paintings” (on which Marten has been working since 2007), “Borderlines” (since 2013) and “Light’n’Lines” (since 2018). The structure of these works of art could hardly be simpler. Each painting consists of narrow, mostly vertical, parallel lines drawn with a fine brush. An exception are the borderlines: they are created with ink brush pen on a solid surface, on acrylic glass or alu-dibond.

“The basic impulse for each of my paintings is a certain color idea,” the artist explains. “It presents itself to me as a kind of mood, in most cases as an imaginary sound and rhythm, which I follow during the realization. So the beginning lies in the choice of colors that correspond to this sound idea and their subsequent arrangement and sequence on the picture surface, so that the desired rhythm becomes visible.“

Close-up showing the wide diversity of each “simple” line

Then follows the specification of „the lines’ thickness and their alignment. While painting one certain line I react to what is there already but also in view of what it is supposed to become. So I react within the small section of the canvas that is visible for me at close range. But the choice of a certain color may have a much bigger impact on the overall effect than expected and so it can influence the whole development of the picture.“

As varied as the results are, the choice of colors is always very concentrated and determined for each series. It can be a certain number, or – as in the Pink Paintings – only pink and black. These then, however, in a multitude of variations, for example with light-dark contrasts and a large number of color nuances between burgundy red, violet blue, pig pink, deep purple and neon pink. But even black is not always just black. It can be a matte, a rich, a colored one, depending on the colored neighborhoods, but also depending on whether the artist uses iron oxide black or ivory black pigment.

colors research

But it is not only the colors themselves that create certain effects, but also their impact on each other and on the viewer. Thus, in the Pink Paintings, there is in some places a pure blue, white or red, which only from a distance in the eye of the beholder combine to form a pinkish-violet overall impression. In the black tones, too, the interaction of the colors creates nuances in the eye of the observer that are actually not present in the real picture. The distance between the viewer and the picture plays an important role here.

The structure of the works prevents us from speaking of a composition in the traditional sense. There is no hierarchy and no center, but only the absolutely equal series of parallel colored stripes. And yet the paintings contain compositional elements, such as movement, rhythm, light and space, solely through the composition and treatment of color. An exception are the “Borderlines” with their “torn off” stripes and white, irregular zigzag lines.

Kenneth Noland, New Day, 1967 227x468 Whitney,
Kenneth Noland, New Day, 1967. In comparison: plain color fields, no graduation.

Yet the “Boderlines”, like so many other works by Doris Marten, can also be read as landscapes. Which brings us to the point: What we see is largely our own interpretation. So the pictures are also a test of our perception. Thus, when we see a bright aurora borealis or a pillar of light, recognize buildings or landscapes, a vast plain and mountains, lakes and rivers, seas and coasts or light reflections on wet roads: it is always our perception that interprets the patterns of lines and colors in this way.

Stripe and line paintings are more frequently found in recent art history, for example in Frank Stella’s work. “You see is what you see,” he said about his paintings, and the same could be said about the works of Kenneth Noland or Bridget Riley: these color field paintings “mean” nothing more than stripes of color on the canvas. This is even more true of the stripe paintings by Gerhard Richter, which were created by repeatedly dividing an existing painting into new sections and printed as digiprints.

concept painting

Such comparisons illustrate the central point in the painting of Doris Marten: her handwriting, her brush work is quite recognizable and of decisive importance. Her conceptual painting is more closely related to the series of Monet’s Haystacks and Rouen Cathedral and their varying appearance in the changing light. Or with the conceptual mathematical works of a Hanne Darboven: her individual sheets always follow the same principle and differ from each other only by the value 1; of utmost importance, however, is the writing, the handwriting of the artist, her drawing of lines.

As with Hanne Darboven, the element of TIME is of decisive importance for Doris Marten. Especially in the execution of a work that is highly repetitive, the passage of time becomes tangible, more than in a varied activity. And something like meditation is generated. “Each line symbolizes a certain moment,” says the artist, “and in their entirety these lines can be read as a dynamic time sequence. Time is my dimension in which I act, and for me the line symbolizes the moment of the present.”

Doris Marten in her studio

The aspect of time is closely connected with the field of music – the variations of a sequence of color structures resemble the musical principle of theme and variations.In this respect, too, the work of the conceptual painter resembles that of Hanne Darboven, who has transformed much of her mathematical work into music.

„Rhythm, sound, repetition, time, all these are components of my pictures,“ says Doris Marten. „But they are also components of music. For this reason, I have been working for several years with sound artists and musicians. I develop paintings they can read and interpret as a score. Some time ago I started working with a choir and a programmer. The idea is to make colors and images audible in a live act or to make the sounding interactively experienced through an app.“

Together with like-minded artists, Doris Marten founded the artist collective Intermission. „It is always highly interesting to discover similarities and differences in the respective works through dialogue and cooperation. Art is communication.“


Some of Doris Marten’s work you can see our digital exhibition New Additions. You might also watch her youtube video “Color and Time” and the report in Young Collectors.

If you like Doris Marten’s paintings you might also be interested in the work of Isabelle Borges, DAG, Matthias EschForster HerchenbachChristine Krämer, Christopher SageBernhard C. Striebel and Jinny Yu.



Doris Marten was born 1971 in Munich. She lives and works in Berlin.


1990-92Training as an animated film illustrator with Curt Linda-Film, Munich
1992-98Academy of Arts, Nuremberg, class of Rolf-Gunter Dienst (painting, graphic design and object art)
1997University of the Arts, Berlin, class of Kuno Gonschior (painting)
1998master student with Rolf-Gunter Dienst

Grants, Awards

2008project grant, Käthe-Dorsch-und-Agnes-Straub-Stiftung
2007Goldrausch Künstlerinnenprojekt art IT
2002DAAD grant, Rome
First Prize, Art in Architecture Competition of the Upper Franconian Government
2000Debutant Prize of the Free State of Bavaria
1996-98Scholarship of the German National Academic Foundation

Solo Exhibitions (selection)

2020Für immer allein, Rahmen&Kunst Alexandra Erlhoff, Berlin
2019Normalverteilung, Kunstraum 34, Stuttgart
Verheißung im Gelände, images of architecture, #2_b-parts Berlin
2016Verhängnis & Gewährleistung, Kunstverein Paderborn
2015Strategien der Defensive, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
was wir gehabt haben werden, Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Trier
2005Retreat, Gen Gallery, Tokyo
2002Deep Space, IASKA art gallery, Kellerberrin, Australia
2001Waiting for the alien, Emil Filla Gallery, Ústí nad Labem, Czechia
2000Plutonics//boxes, Dresdner Bank ,Frankfurt am Main, with V. Peschke

Group exhibitions

2020Modell Berlin, St. Matthäus-Kirche, Kulturforum, Berlin
Construct Your Stories, Falkenrot-Preis, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
2018Driftende Bauten, kunst galerie fürth
New Black Romanticism, National Museum for Art, Bucharest, Stadtgalerie Kiel, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, Galerie der Stadt Backnang, Palais Thurn-und-Taxis Bregenz, Topicuv Salon Prague
The Long Now, Kunstverein Bochum, meCollectors Room Berlin
2017Turm-Bau, kunst_raum_rottweil im Dominikaner-Museum Rottweil
2014Das Mechanische Corps, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, HMKV Dortmund
2012Memento Küstrin, fortress grounds Kostrzyn, Poland
2009Krieg und Medizin, Hygiene Museum Dresden
Memorabilia, Neuer Sächsischer Kunstverein, Dresden
2006Busan Biennial, Busan, Corea
Chemnitz City Resort Neue Sächsische Galerie, Chemnitz
2005Munch Revisited, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund
Global Players, Bank Art Studio Yokohama (Japan), Ludwig-Forum Aachen
2004Revolving Doors, Apex Art Gallery New York, Fondación Telefónica Madrid
2003Adieu Avantgarde, Welcome Home!, Ludwig-Forum Aachen (K)
Living Inside the Grid, New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York City
2002Elvis has just left the building, Perth Institute for Art, Perth, Australia, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin
Aesthetics, ibid-projects London
Split Points, National Gallery Prague – Trade Fair Palace
2001Plug in, Westfälisches Landesmuseum Münster
berlin_london_01, ICA Institute for Contemporary Art, London
2000City Index, Kunsthaus Dresden
Borderline Syndrome, Manifesta 3, Ljubljana
1997Vitale Module, Städt. Galerie Plauen; Kunsthaus Dresden; Kunstverein Ludwigshafen; Galerie Avangarda Wroclaw, Poland (1998)
1996Thing Between, Technische Sammlungen Dresden